Private channels subject to Freedom of Information

by Nicola Taylor, Data Protection Officer

The pandemic has changed how we work and how we communicate with each other. Notably, the use of private channels of communication has increased enormously which raises the question, where do these channels fit in terms of the current information and data regulations?

In short, any information that exists within private correspondence if relevant to a request for information, is subject to the Freedom of information Act and is considered to be held by the authority.

We recognise the benefits that the use of private channels offers, though we must ensure that information is being handled securely and according to the law.

Without an IT department to hold backups or apply data protection rules, when an FOI request is made it is easy for information in private accounts to be forgotten, overlooked or auto-deleted.  So it is important that we remain vigilant.

It is worth remembering that it is considered a criminal offence to erase, destroy, or conceal information with the intention of preventing disclosure after a request is received.

Example of private channels that could be subject to FOI include:

-Private email accounts
-Apps with a direct message facility e.g. Twitter and Facebook Messenger
-Text messages and voice recordings on mobile phones.

Where possible the use of these channels should be avoided in favour of official council options.  However if they are used for any reason, you should consider recording the use and transferring the communication to the council systems as soon as possible to reduce the chance of the information being lost.

If you need any Information Governance advice, please drop Nicola an email at